PIRLS 2021 Fact Sheet

Long title
Progress in International Reading Literacy Study
Frequency of data collection
Every 5 years
Previous cycles
2001, 2006, 2011, 2016

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, PIRLS 2021 had three “waves” of data collection. Nearly all countries assessed their students during Waves 1 and 2, which took place in 2020 and 2021.

  • 2018 (February)–2019 (June): framework and instrument development
  • 2020 (March–April): field test*
  • 2020 (October)–2021 (July): wave 1 Data collection**
  • 2021 (September–November): wave 2 Data collection**
  • 2022 (April–July): wave 3 Data collection
  • 2022 (December): release of international reports
  • 2023 (February): release of international database

*Some participating countries administered their field tests after March – April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

**Some participating countries in the Southern Hemisphere collected data September – November 2021 and are still considered Wave 1 countries, because they administered PIRLS 2021 to fourth grade students at the end of fourth grade. Northern Hemisphere countries that administered PIRLS 2021 in September – November 2021 are considered Wave 2 because they administered PIRLS 2021 to fifth grade students at the beginning of the fifth grade.

  • Monitor system-level trends in student achievement in reading at Grade 4 in a global context
  • Evaluate how well students read, interpret, and critique online information in an environment that looks and feels like the internet
  • Gather and provide information and data for improving learning and teaching in reading
  • Help improve the teaching of reading and the acquisition of reading skills around the world
  • Gain a better understanding of education systems and enable countries to make informed decisions for improving their education policies
  • Compare education systems worldwide in terms of their organization, instructional resources, and practices related to their students’ reading achievement, thus allowing them to learn from the experience of others in designing effective education policy
Assessment domain(s)
  • Reading literacy
Study framework (summary)

Reading framework

  • Purposes for reading
    • Reading for literary experience
    • Acquire and use information
  • Processes of comprehension
    • Focus on and retrieve explicitly stated information
    • Make straightforward inferences
    • Interpret and integrate ideas and information
    • Evaluate and critique content and textual elements


The contextual framework

  • Home contexts
    • Environment for learning
    • Emphasis on literacy
  • School contexts
    • School resources
    • School climate
    • School discipline and safety
    • School emphasis on reading instruction
  • Classroom contexts
    • Classroom reading instruction
    • Information technology in the classroom
    • Classroom climate
    • Teachers’ preparation
  • Student attributes
    • Student reading attitudes
    • Student demographics
  • National contexts
    • Organization of education system
    • Reading curriculum
Participating entities


  • Overall: 58 countries and 6 benchmarking entities
  • digitalPIRLS:  27 countries and 5 benchmarking entities
  • paperPIRLS: 31 countries and 1 benchmarking entities



Countries: Albania, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belgium (Flemish), Belgium (French), Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chinese Taipei, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, England, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Hong Kong SAR, Hungary, Islamic Rep. of Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Macao SAR, Malta, Montenegro, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Northern Ireland, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United States, Uzbekistan

Benchmarking entities: Ontario, Canada; Quebec, Canada; Moscow City, Russian Federation; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; South Africa (Grade 6)

Target population and sample (summary)

Target population (students)

Grade representing 4 years of formal schooling, counting from the first year of ISCED Level 1


Sample (students)

Per country: 150–200 schools, 1 or 2 classes per school, approx. 4,500 students.

In total: nearly 400,000 students

Data collection techniques and instruments (summary)

Student achievement

Formats provided

  • PIRLS: booklets administered on computers through an eAssessment system (digitalPIRLS), including ePIRLS (now fully integrated into PIRLS rather than a separate digital assessment)
  • paperPIRLS: paper-based booklets

digitalPIRLS and paperPIRLS

  • Have the same content organized into 18 passages with accompanying questions (item blocks), with half of the passages assessing reading for literary experience and half assessing reading to acquire and use information
  • Include 18 passages arranged into 18 booklets of two passages each (each booklet with one passage assessing reading for literary experience and one passage assessing reading to acquire and use information)
  • Use a group adaptive assessment design
    • There are three levels of item block difficulty (difficult, medium, and easy).
    • The 18 booklets are divided into two levels of booklet difficulty:
      • Nine more difficult booklets (including two difficult passages or one medium and one difficult passage)
      • Nine less difficult booklets (including an easy and a medium passage or two easy passages)
    • Each country administers the entire assessment with the balance of more difficult and less difficult booklets varying with the achievement level of the students in the country.


  • ePIRLS consists of five tasks that assess online informational reading
  • ePIRLS is integrated in digitalPIRLS, so that no additional testing time is required


Background questionnaires

  • Student questionnaire
  • Learning to Read survey (home questionnaire)
  • Teacher questionnaire
  • School questionnaire
  • Curriculum questionnaire (completed by National Research Coordinators)


Descriptive encyclopedia chapters

Each country provides a chapter describing its education system, with a particular focus on reading education for primary school children.




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The Netherlands

Tel.: +31 20 625 3625

Fax: +31 20 420 7136

E-mail: secretariat@iea.nl

URL: http://www.iea.nl


TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center

Boston College

140 Commonwealth Ave.

Chestnut Hill, MA 02467


Tel: +1 617 552 1600

Fax: +1 617 552 1203

E-mail: timssandpirls@bc.edu

URL: http://timssandpirls.bc.edu/index.html